Should I Take Pre-workout Before A Test? (Pros and cons)


My days of academic and physical tests are long gone (although I still love to study). Back in the day, I used all kinds of pre-workouts to enhance my concentration and focus. This way I was able to pull off early mornings and late nights and pass all my exams.

Today I will explain is it ok to take a pre-workout before taking a test, and if so, what are the benefits.

Overall, you should take a pre-workout before a test because it can enhance your cognitive performance and concentration. Pre-workouts contain caffeine and creatine, which stimulate the central nervous system and help to improve memory performance and alertness. However, taking too much pre-workout before the test can lead to adverse effects.

So here you have my general answer, but if you wanna know more details like if pre-workouts can help you with exam results, as well as what are the best types of pre-workouts for studying, keep reading.

Does taking a pre-workout before the test help?

The benefits of taking pre-workout supplements before exercise are well-documented, but there is not much information about the effectiveness on studying.

Now, I don’t have a degree in biochemistry (I’m an exercise physiologist), but I understand the science and after spending several hours on the internet, I found some interesting information about pre-wokrouts and the effects on cognitive function.

The effectiveness of pre-workout boils down to one thing.

Ingredients.

Some pre-workout ingredients have tons of benefits. Apart from improving aerobic and anaerobic fitness, they have also a positive impact on your memory, mental focus, concentration, and alertness (only for the short term, obviously).

Why is it good to take a pre-workout before a test?

In general, pre-wokorut is good before the test becasue it contains ingredients like caffeine, beta-alanine, l-citrulline, creatine, and l-tyrosine. Most of these substances improve attention, memory, executive function, and reaction time.

Of course, I can call it a day and recommend you to drink coffee. Coffee does have caffeine, which is a potent stimulant on its own and can definitively help you with test (I drink plenty of coffee daily to stay more alert).

However, most high-quality pre-workout supplements have more than just caffeine. Some of the key elements are actually more effective in cognitive performance than caffeine.

Here are some of the pre-workout ingredients you should look for that helps to improve cognitive function, exam performance, and test results.

  • L-Citrulline
  • Creatine monohydrate
  • Malic acid
  • Agmatine sulfate
  • L-Tyrosine
  • Taurine
  • BCAA
  • Beta-alanine

Benefits of taking a pre-workout before a test

There are several benefits of taking a pre-workout before the test, whether that’s an academic or physical test.

As long as you don’t exceed with the recommended dose, the pre-workout helps to increase your alertness, attentiveness, and mood. It also helps to reduce mental fatigue and inhibits depression.

Some pre-wokrouts increase dopamine levels

L-tyrosine is a nonessential amino acid and is the precursor of dopamine and norepinephrine. Taking pre-workout with L-tyrosine helps to increase dopamine levels in the brain and enhance cognitive flexibility.

Laura Steenbergen, Ph.D., a cognitive enhancement researcher from Leiden University in the Netherlands, said that tyrosine supplementation can improve cognitive control in situations with high cognitive demands.

Keep in mind that not all of the pre-workouts contain L-tyrosine. One of the best I’ve seen so far is the Gorrila Mode, from a company called Gorilla Mind.

Pre workouts helps with test results

One reason why I always like to take pre-workout before any creative work or studying is they contain 3x more caffeine than a cup of coffee.

Caffeine is the most widely taken psychoactive stimulant that helps to combat fatigue and drowsiness. It works by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain, which makes you feel more awaken.

Keep in mind that caffeine is also a potent stimulant that can interfere with your sleep. If your test is in the morning, then you can easily take the recommended dose of pre-workout, which won’t have much impact on your sleep.

However, if your test is later during the day, I recommend taking no stimulant pre-workout that doesn’t have caffeine.

Pre-workout helps to reduce stress before a test or exam

Let’s be honest, academic exams and tests can be stressful and cause all sorts of anxiety or worries. It’s not a secret that stress can impair memory, as well as have a negative impact on integrating new information into existing memories.

The reason why I love to take pre-workout before the test is they help me to be calmer and relaxed, while still being sharp and focused on the task.

One of the key ingredients found in both stimulant and non-stimulant pre-workouts that helps to reduce stress is creatine and beta-alanine.

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound that helps to recycle ATP. It also helps to improve memory, executive function, attention, and reasoning, especially during highly stressful tasks.

Beta-alanine does not have a direct impact on your cognitive function, but it does help to enhance the mood.

Alyssa N. Varanoske, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher from Massachusetts, said that β-alanine supplementation helps to increase carnosine levels in the brain, enhance mood, and lower stress, prior to simulated physical work under pressure.

Pre-workouts help with test results by improving memory

Academic tests and examinations require multilevel analysis, critical thinking, and creativity. Taking a pre-workout prior to an exam helps not only to combat mental fatigue but also enhance memory and stay focused.

Most pre-workouts contain citrulline, a potent precursor of L-arginine, which plays a key role in nitric oxide production.

Increased nitric oxide production helps to improve cerebral blood flow which can help you with performance on short-term memory tasks.

Also, according to the study “Creatine Supplementation and Cognitive Performance” done by Terry McMorris, Ph.D., creatine monohydrate helps to enhance short-term and long-term memory, compared to placebo.

Disadvantages of taking a pre-workout before a test

One of the most common “side effects” of taking too much pre-workout before the test is paresthesia, an uncomfortable itchy, and tingling sensation in the skin. This happens due to a high dose of beta-alanine, which is around 2,000 mg per serving.

This tingling sensation doesn’t last long (up to 25 minutes), but it can be really disturbing, especially before an exam.

Obviously, if you’re taking pre-workouts before a physical test, tingling skin is not a big deal. But if you’re taking it before an academic exam, it can feel uncomfortable.

According to Jay R. Hoffman, Ph.D., a researcher from Florida, an appropriate dose for beta-alanine (without adverse effects) should be relative to an individual’s body mass (50 to 80 mg per kilo). This equals an average of 0.8 grams.

In practical terms, if your pre-workout contains 2,000 mg of beta-alanine per serving (you can check that on the label), I recommend taking half scoop and mixing it with a large amount of water.

How long before the test to drink pre-workout?

In general, you should take a pre-workout around 30-60 minutes prior to the test or exam. Most of the pre-workout ingredients have a short lifespan. Their concentration peaks around 30 to 40 minutes after drinking, and last for 3 to 6 hours (aka returns to baseline concentration).

For example, if your test is at 10 am, the best time to take a pre-workout before is around 9 am. However, if your test is in the late afternoon, I would not recommend taking pre-wokorut with too much caffeine.

Take non-stimulant instead.

My little secret on how to have the best mental performance before the test is to do a short aerobic workout (typically it’s the indoor cycling class), followed by the scoop of pre-workout.

This helps not only to increase the levels of caffeine and L-tyrosine but also I get endorphins rush, something similar to “runner high“.

How much pre-workout should you take before the test?

Before the test, you should consume no more than the recommended serving size of your pre-workout (that’s between 15 to 50 grams, depending on the ingredient composition and formulation). Taking too much pre-workout can have side effects like skin reactions, heart rate abnormalities, and nausea.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that taking a pre-workout before the test is not the same as taking it before a workout. During the workout, I often take slightly more than the recommended dose.

However, If I take pre-workout for study, I like to take around half of the recommended dose. This way I don’t experience any jittery reactions and I can focus on the task.

Conclusion

Taking pre-workout before the test is nothing new.

On average, I recommend you should take between 15 to 50 grams of pre-workout, 30 to 60 minutes before the exam. However, the serving size will depend on the supplement you use because the ingredient list and formulas of these supplements vary substantially.

Other factors that will determine how effective pre-workout are individual body weight and typical caffeine consumption.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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